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Family awaits remains of MIA soldier

Family awaits remains of MIA soldier

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The sergeant of the Vietnam War, killed in Cambodia, had been missing since 1971.

CHECOTAH -- The remains of a Texas soldier killed in Cambodia 33 years ago finally will come home next week to his family now living in Oklahoma.

The remains of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Glenn Harris will be flown to Oklahoma on Sunday, and he will be buried Sept. 3 at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery.

But the return cannot happen soon enough for his brother, Richard, who is in the end stages of his own battle with colon cancer.

In fact, Checotah resident Julia Harris prays that her husband will be alive long enough to see his brother properly buried, along with the other war heroes in Fort Gibson.

"We're hoping," Julia Harris said.

"He's on a lot of morphine right now."

Harris' sister, Charlotte Horde, also is expected to attend the service.

Horde, who lives in the Council Hill area of southern Muskogee County, could not be reached Wednesday.

Harris was killed in combat on March 17, 1971, his sister-in-law said.

The McKinney, Texas, native was a 19-year-old door gunner thrown out of his unit's "Huey" assault helicopter after it took Viet Cong fire in a jungle north of the South Vietnamese border, according to a report in an MIA Web site,

The Huey crew of four soldiers -- part of the 128th Assault Helicopter Company -- was inserting South Vietnamese troops into a hostile area and had just pulled away when it was struck by ground fire, the Internet report states.

The copter crashed, although three other crew members were able to exit shortly afterward, the report indicated.

One of those crew members, Staff Sgt. Craig Dix, was apparently shot in the ankle during his escape, the MIA Web site reported.

He and another fellow soldier, pilot Chief Warrant Officer Richard Bauman, later were declared missing in action, according to the report.

Aircraft commander Warrant Officer James Hestand was captured. He was released to the United States two years later, according to reports.

Witnesses believed that Harris was killed instantly, his sister-in-law said.

The uncertainty of his loss, however, was just the beginning of the Harris family's tortuous struggle.

"The army did not tell us a whole lot of anything" for a long time, Julia Harris said.

"He was just missing."

The Harrises lived on nothing but rumors and fellow soldier Hestand's account for about 20 years.

By the 1990s, however, the Cambodian government agreed to allow American search teams into the jungles to look for lost comrades.

Around the Seang village, local farmers apparently began giving eyewitness accounts of seeing the crash and telling authorities what happened to the bodies, she recalled.

"It was the Cambodians who actually buried the bodies in a mass grave," Julia Harris said.

Searchers found what was believed to be Bobby Harris' helmet and some bone fragments, Harris said.

They eventually found enough to conduct DNA testing linking the bones to his siblings and his mother, who died in 1977.

"It's a big deal," Julia Harris said.

"It's just a release to finally know what's happened to him."

Richard Harris, too, is trying to hold on long enough to get Bobby back.

"He's in the end stage of that," Julia Harris said about Richard's battle with cancer."

Yet even at this late, bittersweet point, her husband's thoughts are focused mainly on his long-lost brother.

"After 34 years we're finally getting to bring the kid home," she said.

Nearly 1,900 Americans are still listed as missing in action from the Vietnam War, according to the official Vietnam Veterans of America Web site.

About 55 of those MIAs are believed to be in Cambodia, the organization reported.

Rod Walton 581-8457

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